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  • Amy J.L. Baker

CDC Warns of High Levels of PM

On March 31, 2022 the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released new data on the mental health of U.S. Adolescents. For the full story read here

Among the many alarming findings, this one stands out: More than half (55%) reported they experienced emotional abuse by a parent or other adult in the home, including being sworn at, insulted, or put down. In the report, the CDC Acting Principal Director notes that the data are a "cry for help." Prior to the pandemic, rates of PM were lower but obviously too high (about 10% to 30% lifetime exposure).

These new data can be understood in the context of the increased stressors on parents that occurred during the Covid-19 pandemic. That is, one of the risk factors for psychological maltreatment of children is parental and familial stress that reduces parental patience and effective discipline strategies. Needless to say, the pandemic has played a significant role in increasing parental stress in a number of ways such as inducing intense fear of becoming ill and/or taking care of sick family members, decreasing access to socialization and exercise which reduce stress; and losing one's job and/or having to juggle working from home, child care, and children's virtual learning. While overall reported rates of child maltreatment declined during the pandemic (perhaps because of reduced opportunity to be observed and reported by doctors and teachers), the CDC data demonstrate that self-report data tell a different story, with more than half of teens saying that they experienced themselves as being psychologically maltreated in their homes. The data highlight the importance of multiple perspectives when establishing prevalence rates.

Of particular importance, the CDC data demonstrate the negative impact on families during the pandemic. The CDC survey also found that more than a third (37%) of high-school students reported they experienced poor mental health during the Covid-19 pandemic, and 44% reported that they persistently felt sad or hopeless during the past year. These problems were already on the rise in the decade before the pandemic.

While the current Covid-19 crisis appears to be moving away from the pandemic phase (although this could change), there could be future surges of this or other viruses that result in renewed lockdowns, quarantines, and social isolation. The question remains, how can we as a society do a better job supporting parents so that they can support and promote their children's well-being regardless of the levels of stress being experienced. What can we be doing now to ensure that the next generation of teens is less likely to be emotionally harmed by their parents? Families, children, and even society will suffer unless we find answers to these important and timely questions. Guidance towards these answers can be found on the "intervention" sections of numerous resources on this site.

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